Two decades of economic growth since 1990 has changed the composition of Indian wastes. The quantity of MSW generated in India is increasing rapidly due to increasing population and change in lifestyles. Land is scarce and public health and environmental resources are precious. The current SWM crisis in India should be approached holistically; while planning for long term solutions, focus on the solving the present problems should be maintained.
The Government of India and local authorities should work with their partners to promote source separation, achieve higher percentages of recycling and produce high quality compost from organics. While this is being achieved and recycling is increased, provisions should be made to handle the non-recyclable wastes that are being generated and will continue to be generated in the future (20). State Governments should take a proactive role in leveraging their power to optimize resources.
Improving SWM in India is imperative. Improper SWM presents imminent danger to public health, India’s environment and the quality of life of Indians. Materials and energy recovery from wastes is an important aspect of improving SWM in India. It not only adds value to SWM projects and makes them economically feasible but is also more sustainable. Diverting MSW from landfills and especially from unsanitary landfills in India to any extent will contribute to the cause. India should choose those options or a combination of them, which will
a. best address the issue of overall solid waste management,
b. have the least/no impact on public health and environment,
c. consume minimal resources and
d. be economically feasible.
Recycling, composting and waste-to-energy are integral parts of the solution and they are all required; none of them can solve the India’s SWM crisis alone. Policy to include waste-pickers in the private sector must be introduced to utilize their low cost public and environmental service and to provide better working conditions to these marginalized populations. MBT for windrow composting of mixed wastes should be used to separate wastes. Such separation at a later stage allows for managing the wastes better. Compost from such a facility should be used for cash crops/ or lawns or as landfill cover instead of for food crops. Rejects from composting should be combusted to produce energy and reduce their volume. Only the ash from the WTE plants or co-combustion facilities should be landfilled. Such a scenario would divert 93.7% of MSW from landfilling.
If Indian WTE industry can exhibit self-responsibility in emissions control with constant emissions monitoring, and reporting and can feedback the results into a loop of self-improvement, it will lead the way for reforms in implementation of regulations across all other industries. It would have also established itself as a solution to a crisis and a source of comfort to more than a billion people and inspiration to a huge industrial sector, rather than being perceived by some as another problem to fight against.
The success of recycling in India depends upon leveraging the advantage India has in the form of informal recycling sector. There is a world-wide consensus that the need of recycled materials will spike in the next decade. The informal sector should be ready to meet this demand. This also increases opportunities for private companies which can aggregate large amounts of waste to supply in bulk. Prevalence of one of these or co-existence depends upon the quality of the product and the quantity (bulk) they can supply.
• Informal Sector should be integrated into formal system;
• Compost from MBT should be used as landfill cover/ cash crops/ lawns;
• RDF and WTE for the rest of the waste from MBT plants; and
• Majority source separation should be the target of Municipal corporations
Solid Waste Management, its impacts on public health and environment, and prospects for the future should be further researched. The findings should be disseminated into the public knowledge domain more effectively.